Asus W2Pc review
HD fanatics will love the large, bright TFT, but its cutting-edge technology comes at a high price
HD DVD and Blu-ray systems have been making sporadic appearances in PC Pro for a few months now. We've seen two machines from Sony with Blu-ray drives - the VAIO VGN-AR11S notebook and the VAIO VGX-XL202 media centre - as well as the laptop debut of HD DVD in the Toshiba Qosmio G30. The Asus W2Pc has a chassis that we've seen before, but a number of specification changes, including the important addition of an HD DVD drive, make this an interesting revision.
The optical drive is actually the same model as in the Qosmio G30, and is capable of reading and burning all DVD and CD formats. Just note that it can't actually write to HD DVD discs, making it primarily a player for HD films.
Current HD DVD discs have a maximum capacity of 30GB, which is less than the 50GB of Blu-ray, but still enough for an HD film to fit on a single disc. A dozen or so HD DVD films are available so far - we tried a 1080p version of Troy, and noticed a significant improvement over the DVD version, even on the W2Pc's 17.1in TFT. Just bear in mind that, even on this comparatively large panel, you'll technically be losing some detail, as it's only 1,050 lines high - enough for 720p content, but not quite enough for 1080p: the extra 30 lines are interpolated out.
The TFT itself is generally superb. While colour accuracy isn't the best, the screen is exceptionally bright and evenly lit. As always, the glossy finish is a double-edged sword: it isn't great for working in an office because it's extremely reflective, but it does increase apparent contrast. In practice, this makes photos and videos look great - colours are incredibly vibrant, and the W2 is perfect for crowding a few friends around. For larger audiences, an S-Video port allows you to output the screen image to a traditional TV, while an optical S/PDIF port on the front is capable of outputting 7.1 channel HD audio.
The W2Pc comes with Windows Media Center 2005, which doesn't support HD DVD playback itself - you must use third-party software (which Asus supplies). This is a tad annoying, as it means you can't use the Media Center remote control. We expect this problem to be resolved by an upgrade to Vista - note that the W2Pc qualifies for a free upgrade to Vista if you buy it from www.asusnotebooks.co.uk - although early drivers meant that when we tried to turn this theory into practice we still had problems.
The 2GHz Core Duo T2500 of the original W2 has been upgraded to an Intel Core 2 Duo T7400 with a core speed of 2.16GHz. It's the same CPU that powers the Apple iMac on p76, and the overall benchmark score of 1.27 is impressive. Our review unit had 1GB of RAM, but the retail version has 2GB, which will mean a slight increase in speed too. 3D gaming performance comes from the 256MB ATi Radeon X1700, which is an improvement on the X1600 in the previous version. While it isn't a top-end gaming card, it's capable, producing respectable average scores of 23fps and 29fps in Far Cry and Call of Duty 2 at their lowest settings. The hard disk is a 160GB model - currently the greatest capacity available on a single 2.5in notebook drive.
The chassis is finished in dark-grey brushed aluminium, and looks stunning, but produced the same complaints as the last version of the W2. The front edge of the chassis finishes very abruptly, and is perfectly placed to cut into your forearms as you type. It sounds like a minor complaint, but we were distinctly fatigued after just 30 minutes of typing.